The new baseball season started in South Korea on Tuesday with the crack of the bat and the sound of the ball smacking into the catcher’s mitt echoing around empty stadiums.
After a weeks-long delay because of the coronavirus pandemic, umpires wore protective masks and cheerleaders danced beneath rows of unoccupied seats as professional baseball got back on the field.
There were many faces in the stands in at least one stadium, but they were pictures instead of real people because fans aren’t allowed into the venues – at least for now.
Instead, it was easy to hear players cheering and shouting from the dugouts. And it was a relief to fans watching from home in a country that is now trying to slowly return to pre-COVID-19 normalcy amid a waning caseload.
The country’s professional soccer leagues will kick off Friday, also without spectators in the stadiums.
Players and coaches will go through fever screenings before entering stadiums, and umpires and first- and third-base coaches must wear masks during matches. Players are prohibited from signing autographs or high-fiving teammates with bare hands.
Also, chewing tobacco was banned to prevent spitting, and masks and latex gloves will be required at training facilities.
Fans will be barred from games until the KBO is convinced the risk of infection has been minimized. If any member of a team tests positive for the coronavirus at any point of the season, the league will be shut down for at least three weeks.
In a game in the capital, LG Twins defeated crosstown rival and defending champion Doosan Bears 8-2 at Jamsil Stadium, where the outfield seats were decked with huge banners of the Twins’ cheering slogans.
A full season of baseball seemed doubtful in early March when South Korea was reporting about 500 new virus infections a day, forcing the KBO to postpone its March 28 season openers.